"Improv Tips Reaches 100 Milestone" by Jason Hensel

Congratulations to Paul Vaillancourt on posting 100 Improv Tips videos! For two years, Vaillancourt, co-founder of iO West and author of The Triangle of the Scene, has offered timeless advice for improvisers at all stages in their development through his short videos on YouTube.

Even more, he often brings in revered improvisers to offer their tips, which is great for students who don't get a chance to take workshops or classes taught by these esteemed performers. 

For example, Armando Diaz offers his advice on how to keep growing as an improviser, Molly Erdman shares her advice about therapy improv, and David Koechner explains how to hyper agree

Vaillancourt's 100th video features Del Close and advice about the art of improv.

"Del [Close] used to tell us that being funny is not really the sort of point of improv," Vaillancourt says in the video. "Sometimes, especially new students, want to say, 'Well, what's the point, or what's the purpose of improv?' and I don't think improv has a purpose. I think improv is like a medium like paint. Once you learn how to mix the paint and apply it to the canvas in certain ways where you have a command of that medium, then you can use it to express anything you want."

Sure, Vaillancourt says, you can get an audience to laugh.

"[But] what else can we get them to feel? Horror? Sadness? Joy? Happiness? Transcendence? All of these things," he says. "I think that if I had one thing to impart to you as we move on to the next step, it's challenge yourselves to let the work be more than just funny. I mean, funny is great and funny is a fantastic goal or a fantastic byproduct of what we do, but I think it's so much more than that."

As an example, he offers a clip (below) of Del Close "himself improvising a monologue about the suggestion 'Del Close.' It's like it's layers upon layers, but I think that when you see him do it, it'll really drive home this point."

Once again, congratulations Vaillancourt, and thank you for all of these tips!

"Six Eats for Your Comedy Appetite" by Jason Hensel

That comedy on stage is making you hungry. Time to order some food. With so many good options, it’s hard to decide what to pick. Here are some suggestions.

Popcorn
Pros: The perfect theater food. It’s light. It’s inexpensive. It hardly makes a sound when you chew it (with your mouth closed, you heathen). Cons: You always grab more than can fit in your hand and half of it falls on the ground.

Tortilla Chips
Pros: Their only purpose in life is to be queso (or salsa or guacamole, if you’re nasty) vessels, just like humans. Cons: Hard to eat them quietly in a timely manner. Tortilla dust.

Quesadilla
Pros: The quiet Tex-Mex food. Full of cheese. Can add steak or chicken to it. Cons: If you’re with someone else, you’ll be asked to share or offer a bite. Don’t. This cheesy goodness is all yours. Make your date or friend order his or her own.  

Wrap
Pros: The sandwich of the Southwest. A step above the pedestrian bread slice. Can save the other half for lunch tomorrow. Cons: Loose wrapping. But then it becomes a salad; so pro, fewer carbs!

Sandwich
Pros: Classic. Food of the people. Not uppity like wraps. Always there for you in a pinch. Cons: You’ll be forced to categorize your friends into those who slice diagonally versus those who slice horizontally.

Queso
Pros: Fulfilling. Magical. Life-changing. Will hold your hand when you're sad. Cons: There are no cons with queso.

Guess what. Yeah, that’s right. The Dallas Comedy House offers a food menu featuring all of these items and more. Bon appetit!  

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.

"Comedy and Imagination" by Jason Hensel

The Imagination Institute is a Philadelphia-based non-profit dedicated to exploring imagination across society. One of its specific, yearly meetings is the "Comedy Imagination Retreat," and the organization recently released a video (below) featuring an interesting panel discussion from its August 2016 meeting. 

The panel consisted of comedy professionals such as Aisha Alfa (actress and comedian), Cindy Caponera (actress, writer, and producer), Scott Dikkers (founder of The Onion), Kelly Leonard (executive director, insights and applied improvisation, Second City Works), Anne Libera (director of comedy studies, The Second City), and Bob Mankoff (cartoonist and former cartoon editor of The New Yorker), among others. 

The participants discussed a wide variety of topics relating to comedy and imagination, such as "Does being funny lead to happiness?," "Is laughter a necessary component of comedy?," and "Where does comedy come from?"

Dikkers, for example, believes comedy comes from practice and the desire to put in the work for it.

“It’s not magic,” Dikkers said. “It didn't come out of nowhere. [Comedians] developed it and they practiced it, and they became masters. When you do something…if you do it for 10
years obsessively, you're going to be a master. I’ve seen that over and over with people.” 

Dikkers' philosophy is that "consistent practice can create talent," and there are two myths about comedy.

"The first myth of comedy is that the genius sits down and writes brilliant comedy without (first writing) 19 jokes that failed," Dikkers said. "The second myth is completion, that the people who succeed in comedy are the ones with the talent. Not true. The people who succeed in comedy are the ones who complete it.”

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.

"The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Sketch Shows" by Chad Richards

It was the beginning of a new term and my six Sketch 3 classmates and I were waiting in the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) lobby for the class to start. There was a table with nametags out for us. On top of the bar were stacks of Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within with a sign indicating they were for sale. We were trying to figure out what was going to happen next when we heard a booming voice come over the P.A.

“ARE YOU READY TO SKETCH?!”

We were confused.

“ARE. YOU. READY?!” The voice repeated.

We heard movement above us. Suddenly, noted motivational speaker, business guru, and life coach Tony Robbins rappelled from the rafters and met us on the floor.

“ARE. YOU. READY?!” He exclaimed again. His headset microphone shook as he emphatically pointed at each one of us. We looked at each other, began a slow clap, and knew we were ready. We followed the spray-tanned genius into Tharp theater, where he presented us with a life-changing lesson: "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Sketch Shows." I am now humbled and honored to present these lessons on to you.

  • Take Things to Extremes

    • The smallest kernel of an idea can turn into the most delicious piece of sketch popcorn. In general, I’m a pretty reserved person. Pushing things to the extreme is something I struggle with in improv and when I’m writing. But when you can really commit to a sketch and get to those extremes, it’s magical. Push the people you’re writing with to get there.

  • Find Fun Takes on Common Things

    • Everyone wants their comedy and writing to be relatable. Everyone also wants to come up with the most original and creative idea ever put on stage. Let the latter come from the former. Relatable things are relatable because they happen every day. Relieve yourself of the pressure to come up with grand ideas by looking at the day-to-day from a new angle.

  • Be Positive

    • This is something you hear over and over from instructors and performers at DCH, but sketch is where this has really clicked for me. Our Level 2 and Level 3 sketch shows have started with a very rah-rah opener. That energy and enthusiasm carry over for the rest of our shows. I can see it in my cast mates’ performances, and I can feel it in my own.

  • Weird Works

    • When someone pitches an idea that’s a little strange, find the fun elements and run toward it with your arms wide open. It may very well turn into one of your favorite sketches if you embrace it with the right attitude.

  • Be Aware of Your Resources

    • DCH performers are more than just hilarious comedy brains. Sometimes, they have an intricate knowledge of a particular topic. Sometimes, they are prop masters. Sometimes, they’re willing to buy lots of wigs and costumes to help the jokes land. Use your full toolbox when you’re writing and planning your sketch show.

  • Have a Pudgy Guy Take His Shirt Off

    • No need to mess with a classic. A pudgy guy without his shirt on is vulnerable, yet whimsical. That’s really what good writing is all about.

  • Enjoy the Process

    • Putting on a sketch show is a lot of work. There has been lots of writing, rewriting, rehearsing, and memorizing. I have caught myself feeling the work weighing on me. Thankfully, my cast mates; Jonda, our teacher; and Cody, our TA; have been there for me to bring back the fun and silliness every step of the way.  

I’m not sure how Tony Robbins made some of those of points so personal to me, but I suppose that’s just part of his wonder. Thanks to Tony Robbins, and all of our teachers and TAs, for guiding my classmates and me through this program. We can’t wait to perform Frisky Business three more times. We would love for you to come see it.

Chad Richards is a graduate of the DCH improv program and is currently graduating from the sketch program. In his free time, he likes to tell people that he likes writing. He performs with Sunglow and The Big Short. Frisky Business runs July 12 at 7:30 p.m. and July 13 and 14 at 7 p.m.

(Photos by Jason Hensel)

"How to Tell If You’re Improvising or Falling Asleep on Stage" by Darcy Armstrong

Comedy is tough. Sometimes you think that you’re doing comedy, but really you’re sleeping. For example, in the above photo, we see two people doing comedy and one person sleeping. You can tell he is sleeping by the way his eyes are closed and he has his head resting on his arms. This is a classic sleeping pose. You can tell Andrew is doing comedy because he has his thumb out like, “Get a load of this guy,” a classic dig at a sleeping person. Throughout this article, I’ll help you walk through some different scenes and figure out the sleepers and the comedians.

Here we see a lot of comedians and one little sneaky sleeper. You may think Timmy is sleeping by the door; however, you would be wrong. He is very alert because he is being held up by a fellow comedian, Shawn Frambach, who is also very awake. You can see Christie’s extreme disappointment at being in the scene with a sleeper in the way she has her arms folded and is looking at him very disappointed. That’s right, Nick has fallen asleep in this scene. How could Nick have avoided this disaster? Maybe getting more sleep. Maybe he stayed up all night admiring his very cute dog? We’ll never know. But congratulations, you’re getting better at spotting those sneaky comedy sleepers. 

We’re switching gears for this one, so I hope you can stay with me. That’s right, we’re looking at sketch comedy. These three comedians have written down jokes instead of making them up off the top of their heads. I didn’t mean to throw you for a loop, but you’re learning very quickly. Here, Maggie has fallen asleep in the middle of a scene. Colten and Jade are clearly very concerned as to how to continue the scene while Maggie takes a quick nap. Maybe, Maggie still thinks she is doing comedy. Maybe, in her dreams, Maggie is standing in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. However, we can tell, as comedy vs. sleep experts, that Maggie is actually sleeping.

After that toughie, I’m here to give you an easy one. In this photo, we clearly have two comedians. One mixing a bowl hilariously, while the other grabs something off the counter to help out. What a doozie of a laugher. But seated in the middle is our sleeping culprit. Rob Howe, taking a little rest in the middle of an improv jam! Rob, you gotta be awake to do comedy, buddy. You can tell Rob is sleeping by the way he has his hands resting on his legs, just relaxing into the slumber. Give him just another minute and that hat will be pulled down over his eyes as he drifts off to sleep.

You feeling cocky? You think you’ve got a handle on it? Well, here’s a really tricky one. This is an improv graduation. They are doing a bit! How can you tell who is sleeping and who is not? You think that it’s Nika? Wrong. Neeka is clearly cradling a sweet little improv baby. Only one person in this photo is yawning. A classic sign of a sleeping person. That’s right, our dear Jay Jacoby has fallen asleep mid-song. Jay, what are you doing? Get some vitamins, chug an energy drink, and power through. You only graduate once, Jay!

We’re back in the world of sketch comedy for this one. You’re experienced now, professionals. I’ll give you a hint. This photo was taken at an 11 p.m. Sketch Dash show. Did you say both? Both comedians are sleeping? You really think we would allow two comedians to just sleep on stage and expect people to pay to watch that? You’re not as quick as you thought, Sherlock! This was a trick question. Chelsea and Collin are both VERY awake and pretending to be stoners in high school. Waynes World has nothing on them! 

We’ve come full circle. You’ve seen this one before. One improviser, one sleeper. So who is it? Cesar has taken Jua’s place, but he’s awake and alert! He’s got his eyes fixated on Jason. Jason has his hand out as if to brace himself for a fall. Why would he be falling? Because Jason is asleep! Jason has fallen asleep during an improv scene and left Cesar trapped behind the C in DCH to save the scene. I hope that one didn’t trick you too much. You’ve come a long way.

That’s right. Now that you are correctly able to identify who is sleeping in an improv scene and who is doing comedy, you can see my secret shame. In the middle of this improv scene, when I was supposed to be launching into space with my fellow astronauts, I fell asleep. So I’ve taken these steps today to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. If you see someone sleeping in an improv or sketch scene, wake them up, let them know. We have to fight this improviser by improviser, scene by scene, or you too one day could be caught… sleeping in an improv scene. 

Darcy Armstrong is a graduate of the Dallas Comedy House improv, sketch writing, and storytelling program. She writes comedy occasionally, walks her dog frequently, drinks chardonnay at the DCH bar constantly, and performs with Glistlefoot and Serious Robots.

(All photos by Darcy Armstrong except for the last one, taken by Kaspars Skels.)

"5 Swimsuits That Say, 'I'm Over You, Karen'" by Emily Ball

Summer is a season for feeling flirty and alive, and definitely not a season for obsessing over where things went wrong with your ex-girlfriend, Karen. To celebrate this summer, here are five swimsuits that say, “I’m over you, Karen!”

Show Karen that you’re holding yourself together with this knotted little number from zara.com. The subtle pink and red coloring will remind her of the heart that she broke with her callous and cruel dismissal of your love. Shop the look at https://tinyurl.com/Karen-Knotted.

KarenKnotted.jpg

Brush that dirtbag off your shoulder with this sweet and chic off-the-shoulder look. The blue and white pattern is a gentle nod to the china that your mother purchased for you and Karen when you announced your plans to propose. Your mother had to return those dishes to Macy’s while sobbing into a handkerchief. Thanks a lot, Karen! Shop the look at https://tinyurl.com/Karen-China.

KarenChina.jpg

Show Karen how much free time you have on your hands now that you’re single with a crocheted bikini! She’ll be blown away by your creativity and enterprising mindset. If you don’t want to invest the time in creating your own beachwear, you can shop a pre-made version of this style at https://tinyurl.com/Karen-Crochet.

KarenCrochet.jpg

Remind Karen of how much fun you had on your last picnic with this fun & flirty gingham bikini. The pattern matches the blanket that you picked out especially for that day, and then sobbed into after Karen rejected your heartfelt proposal. Wasn’t that fun, Karen? WASN’T THAT FUN? Shop this look at https://tinyurl.com/Karen-Gingham.

Try out the new “bridal bikini” trend for a look that says “WHY COULDN’T YOU JUST MARRY ME, KAREN?? I LOVED YOU WITH THE HEAT OF A THOUSAND FUNERAL PYRES.” Shop this look at https://tinyurl.com/WHYKARENWHY.

Let me know your favorite picks in the comments below!

Karen, if you’re out there somewhere reading this, please email me back. I miss you.

Emily Ball is an improviser, bartender, and stand-up comedian based out of Dallas, Texas. In her free time, she likes to moderate arguments between her cat, Debbie, and her dog, Tucker.